SEARCH ME >> 11.08

A sampling of some of the bizarro search terms with (thankfully) low numbers that brought people to BOOKGASM over the last 30ish days:

• why do people have to go to the bathroom
• what exactly do playboy bunnies have to do
• milfmagic
• cheech, is he canadian
• whore price moscow

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Death Note: Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 / Vol. 3

In its native Japan, the manga DEATH NOTE is a phenomenon, having reportedly sold some 24 million copies and spawned an anime series and live-action films, with a U.S. remake in the works. Wanting to see what the fuss was all about, I intended to read just a few pages of DEATH NOTE: VOL. 1 in the tub. But an hour later, I was still soaking, so hooked in the story that I wasn’t leaving until the last page was reached.

That’s the power of a brilliant concept: A smart high school senior named Light finds a black notebook accidentally left behind by a demon. When one writes a person’s name in it, that person dies. You can even specify the exact time and means of their demise.

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Flight: Volume One / Volume Two

If you’re looking to gift a graphic novel this season, may I suggest any of the volumes in the FLIGHT line? The anthology series focuses on the whimsical and otherworldly, but grounded just enough not to be outrageous and over-the-top. A sense of childlike wonder and innocence permeates all the volumes, even if no true discernible theme arises.

Project creator Kazu Kibuishi bookends FLIGHT: VOLUME ONE with “Air and Water” and “Cooper,” two imaginative adventures featuring a boy, his talking dog and their experiences in flight. The first story is funny, while the second is more fanciful (and wordless).

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QUICKGASM >> 11.28.08

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

Perhaps my love for THE GEOGRAPHER’S LIBRARY — my favorite novel of 2005 — tainted my expectations for Jon Fasman’s follow-up THE UNPOSSESSED CITY, a literary thriller in which a down-on-his-luck Jim takes a gig in Russia interviewing political prisoners to pay off some gambling debts, much to the chagrin of his fishmonger folks. The trip seems worth it when he falls for the beautiful, Finnish wannabe actress Kaisa, but then the Soviets don’t take kindly to his job, and abduction becomes the name of the game. Fasman is a terrific writer whose lines really sing, but the plot never pushed me to keep going, like I just had to read one more chapter before flicking off the bedside light. It’s the alternating chapters focusing solely on the Russians that did me in, whereas the ones with Jim drew me in. It’s not a sophomore slump, but it’s not out of the stadium, either.

Heard the one about Coca-Cola translating to “bite the wax tadpole” in China? Yeah, not exactly. Amateur logophile David Wilton shoots down many popularly held beliefs involving words and phrases in WORD MYTHS: DEBUNKING LINGUISTIC URBAN LEGENDS. For example: “Crap” does not come from Thomas Crapper, who’s wrongly credited as the inventor of the toilet. “In like Flynn”? Nothing to do with Errol. Nearly every cliché you can think of — “chew the fat,” “throw the baby out with the bathwater” — is discussed, with Wilton dishing about their true origins, with informed research and clear explanations. The illustrations by alt-cartoonist Ivan Brunetti are icing on the cake. (For more current word porn, see Elizabeth Little’s new, fun BITING THE WAX TADPOLE: CONFESSIONS OF A LANGUAGE FANATIC, which goes one further by delving into numerals.)

It’s every parents’ worst nightmare: the disappearance of your child. In Michael Jasper’s fantasy A GATHERING OF DOORWAYS, the situation is more complicated than usual, because 5-year-old Noah has entered into “the Undercity,” a cavernous, underground world whose tunnels he navigates with the aid of a jaguar. Guilt-stricken dad Gil goes on the hunt for him, helping advance the adventure, but the scenes with Noah’s mother threaten to reverse that forward motion, or at least bring it to a halt. Descriptions of the forest ground suddenly opening up into a hole to swallow people are nightmarish, leading characters (and the reader) to princes, dragons and other strangers. The underwhelming novel’s just shy of satisfying, despite an ending that is poignant and real. A better tale of this type lies in John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS.

I’ve never heard of the “hit Cartoon Network show” BAKUGAN, but my 11-year-old informs me it’s “stupid.” Whatevs. The animated series is now a graphic novel in the alliterative BAKUGAN BATTLE BRAWLERS: THE BATTLE BEGINS. It’s short and roughly digest-sized, comprised of stills directly from an episode, which is an approach I always find to be lazy. Then again, this one isn’t directed toward middle-aged men. Its target is little kids — ones not old enough to remember POKÉMON, but they’re apt to get into it, because this is exactly like POKÉMON, in that people fight one another via supernatural creatures with silly names that emerge from tossed balls and cards. —Rod Lott

Buy them at Amazon.

Black Friday Deals at Amazon

Black Friday deals have already started at Amazon, including hourly Gold Box deals and products on sale for only a limited time only! Save yourself the hassle of fighting crowds and shop online.

Also, don’t forget Amazon Customers Vote, where you cast your ballot for the deals you’d like to buy at amazing discounts, with a new round each day. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

One Night Stands and Lost Weekends

Lawrence Block would rather you not read ONE NIGHT STANDS AND LOST WEEKENDS. After all, it’s not his best work — and he tells you that right up front. At least there’s a good reason for it: This anthology represents his earliest work of super-short stories, cranked out for men’s magazines of the 50s and 60s. Understandably, he’s more than a little critical of stuff he wrote decades before he really knew what he was doing. (Hell, I sometimes cringe at things I’ve written a week ago.)

But curiosity rises above any mediocrity, and Block fans will want it regardless. Considering the $14.95 price tag, they’ll be amply rewarded. Some of the stories exhibit a real clever streak, like “Just Window Shopping,” told from the point of view of a serial Peeping Tom who’s taken one eyeful too many.

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Echoes from the Dead

Some universal memes exist that seem to exemplify Scandinavian mystery fiction: They are all ineffably sad, they all seem to focus on domestic mysteries with crime close to home, there is a ton of self-contemplative navel gazing, and they’re not afraid to use less-than-glamorous characters as our main focal points. This can be done very well (Åsa Larsson) or very poorly (Christian Jungersen). Thankfully, Johan Theorin’s ECHOES FROM THE DEAD falls squarely into the former category.

Julia is a damaged case, a woman who lost her son at a very early age. One day, her little boy disappeared over the wall around the house and was never seen again, thought accidentally drowned at sea. And then, 20 years later, the boy’s sandal is sent in an unmarked envelope to the grandfather. What twisted web of evil has been uncovered? A remarkably realistic one, tastefully and sensitively written, with believable characters.

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> I Can Read for Miles

bullets broads blackmail and bombsAs you can probably tell from that title, I’ve had THE WHO SELL OUT in my CD player way too many times. This week’s theme is seeing and sight among my piles of paperbacks. We have a very British tale to kicks things off, while the second book is a colorful detective story. Then the third is a return of a certain superspy.

THE OLD ENGLISH PEEP SHOW by Peter Dickinson — Originally published under the title of A PRIDE OF HEROES, this 1969 novel is the second in Dickinson’s James Pibble series — a six-book collection that features a police detective who investigates the most bizarre cases. This story is set in “Old England,” a combination of Disneyland and colonial Williamsburg, where two old WWII vets have created a theme park to entertain tourists. Pibble is called to investigate the apparent suicide of one of their most trusted workers.

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Did YOU win a copy of SILVER?

silver reviewLaddies and lassies, if I weren’t so nice, I’d take this sword from my scabbard and cut off a pinkie (maybe two) for trying to enter these contests by leaving the answers in the comments rather than e-mailing. But lucky for you, I’m non-confrontational.

And on that note, the randomly chosen winners of Edward Chupack’s SILVER: MY OWN TALE AS WRITTEN BY ME WITH A GOODLY AMOUNT OF MURDER are:
• Ed Pettit of Jenkintown, Pa.
• Kip Vaughn of Huntington Beach, Calif.

For the record, the four pirate movies you had to identify in the contest were:
1. CUTTHROAT ISLAND
2. HOOK
3. THE ISLAND
4. THE PIRATE MOVIE

Thanks for playing, and all you losers can buy it on Amazon. Another contest coming Monday, for those who survive their tryptophan comas this Thanksgiving weekend!

Almuric

For the pulp fans who thought Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars was too much of a good guy, Robert E. Howard gives you ALMURIC, his take of an Earthling on a different planet, and not one in our solar system, either.

Esau Cairn is everything John Carter is not: “Misanthrope” sums it up best. After killing a cop, Esau is on the run and — wouldn’t you know the luck? — comes across a mad scientist with a teleport machine he needs tested. Esau is transported to another world, where at the onset, he fights off some strange beasts. He keeps to himself after battling the local livestock, until he finally decides to meet others on the planet, known as Almuric.

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